5 Things: Thompson, Horschel battle at McGladrey
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Even the caddies were confused. While waiting for the fairway to clear on the Seaside Course’s seventh hole, Michael Thompson’s looper started digging around a Ping staff bag.
“Wrong bag,” Billy Horschel said with a laugh. Thompson’s caddie had taken a wrong turn while searching for a supplement to add to Thompson’s water bottle.
Thompson and Horschel, who were paired in the McGladrey Classic’s final pairing Saturday, have their share of similarities. Only one player can win the McGladrey Classic, though. The two SEC alums will play in the final group again Sunday. Thompson, 26, and Horschel, 24, are PGA Tour rookies who share a sponsor and won the SEC Championship at nearby Frederica.
“We’re just two young guys having fun on the PGA Tour,” Thompson said. “It was just like playing your country club on a Saturday. It made me feel comfortable.”
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1.) Tide Rolling: Thompson will start Sunday with the first 54-hole lead of his career. He’s at 13-under 197 (65-65-67) and one shot ahead of Horschel, who shot even-par 70 on Saturday. A high finish also will lock up Thompson’s card for 2012. He’s 116th on the money list, with $663,265.
A year ago this week, the Alabama grad was winning a Hooters Tour event in rival territory Auburn, Ala., in preparation for Q-School.
Thompson, runner-up in the 2007 U.S. Amateur, turned pro in 2008 after earning the low-amateur honor at the U.S. Open (T-29). He slumped in his first pro season, and had to spend the 2009 and 2010 seasons on the Hooters Tour. He was last year’s Hooters Tour player of the year before graduating from Q-School.
As Thompson was talking with agents in preparation for his pro career, one told him that he’d have to hit the ball higher to compete on the PGA Tour.
“That one quote, it totally changed my whole outlook on the game of golf and how I was going to go about playing it,” he said. “I changed my whole swing.
“I worked on shallowing out my swing. I used to come in really steep, take deep divots. I was working on casting the club, releasing my hands early. That caused my impact to change dramatically. I felt like I was sweeping the ball, instead of compressing it. For me, that brought in a duck hook. That duck hook produced a fear of hitting it left, and then I started hitting it all over the place.”
Thompson even briefly considered quitting the game during one poor stretch in 2009.
“I told myself, ‘There’s no point. This is miserable,’ ” Thompson said. “My family, my coach, my friends, my girlfriend (now wife), everyone encouraged me to keep going, and I knew this is always what I wanted to do in the long run.”
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2.) Billy, Billy, Billy: Horschel also has come a long way in the past 12 months. He was playing on the Nationwide Tour last fall as he came back from wrist surgery. Horschel earned a PGA Tour card in his first Q-School attempt in 2009. He played only four PGA Tour events last year before undergoing surgery, though.
Two weeks ago, Horschel was 154th on the money list. A seventh-place finish at the Frys.com Open moved him up to 139th. He’s finished no worse than 30th in his past four starts. He credited improved ball-striking and a switch to a cross-handed putting grip at August’s Reno-Tahoe Open.
“I’m back to where I was at ’09 Q-School when I first came out of college, just the way I feel about my game, my confidence,” said Horschel, a member of the 2007 U.S. Walker Cup team.
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3.) Masterful finish: Trevor Immelman, who also has had to overcome a left-wrist injury in his career, put together a late-Saturday charge to get in contention. He’s seeking his first PGA Tour victory since the 2008 Masters and first top 10 since that year’s Tour Championship. Immelman played his final five holes Saturday in 6 under to match the Seaside Course record at 8-under 62.
He has yet to post a top 10 on the PGA Tour this season. A 12th-place finish at the PGA is his best showing this season. A 21st-place finish at last week’s Frys.com Open was his sixth top 25 of the season. Immelman started the week 99th on the money list.
“I think I played pretty solid this year,” said Immelman, who had left-wrist surgery in October 2009. “I’ve actually been able to get out and play when I want to play and practice when I want to practice.”
At No. 14, Immelman hit his 169-yard approach to within 2 feet of the hole. He holed a 35-foot eagle putt on the next hole. Immelman hit his 99-yard approach on No. 16 to 4 feet. He holed another 35-foot putt to birdie the 193-yard, par-3 17th and closed his round with a 16-foot birdie putt.
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4.) Money on his mind: Webb Simpson will start the final round in third place, two shots off the lead, as he seeks his third victory of the season. A victory would put him in the lead on the PGA Tour money list and strengthen his player-of-the-year candidacy.
If Simpson finishes 15th or better this week, he would enter next week’s season-ending Children’s Miracle Network Classic as the Tour’s leading money winner. If Simpson, No. 2 on the PGA Tour money list, were to win Sunday, Luke Donald would need to win next week to capture the money title. Simpson and Donald are in the field next week.
Simpson missed just one fairway and one green Saturday, but had 35 putts in his three-birdie, two-bogey round of 69. He’s at 11-under 199.
Simpson also held the No. 1 spot in the FedEx Cup standings entering the final event of the playoffs. His 22nd-place finish at the Tour Championship allowed Bill Haas to pass him, though.
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5.) Join the club: Two PGA Tour non-members who earned spots in the McGladrey by finishing in the top 10 at last week’s Frys.com Open made the cut and helped their chances of making the PGA Tour in 2012.
Bud Cauley is all but a lock to earn a PGA Tour card, but this week’s earnings will make him feel that much safer. Cauley, who started Saturday in 17th, shot even-par 70 to fall to 33rd place. He’s earned $671,150 this season after top 5s at the Viking and Frys.com, putting him $68,758 ahead of Matt Jones, who’s 125th on the money list. Cauley will earn a PGA Tour card for next year, as long as he stays inside the top 125 on the money list.
Cauley was not offered a sponsor exemption into next week’s Children’s Miracle Network Classic. Instead, he’s playing his hometown Nationwide Tour event, the Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open at TPC Sawgrass.
Adam Hadwin is trying to hold on to a spot in the top 150 on the money list, which would exempt him into the final stage of Q-School (he’s exempt into second stage for making the U.S. Open cut). Hadwin has earned $432,752 this season, the equivalent of 145th on the money list, after a fourth-place finish at the Canadian Open and a seventh-place showing at the Frys.com Open. He’s $32,098 ahead of David Duval, who ranks 150th on the money list.
Hadwin is tied for 67th at 1-over 211 (68-71-72).